Internal and External Adaptation in Army Families: Lessons from Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm

By Pittman, Joe F.; Kerpelman, Jennifer L. et al. | Family Relations, April 2004 | Go to article overview

Internal and External Adaptation in Army Families: Lessons from Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm


Pittman, Joe F., Kerpelman, Jennifer L., McFadyen, Jennifer M., Family Relations


This study examined 1,064 Army families reunited after a member's deployment for Operation Desert Shield and Operation Desert Storm. Postdeployment outcomes were conceptualized in terms of the "fit" between the family and the demands of Army life, especially the stress of deployment. A structural model was used to test the hypothesized effects of deployment-period family coping, use of family support services, and perceptions of the unit culture on family outcomes. Especially salient in the findings were the effects of unit culture, which mediated the effects of family support services on outcomes. Moderating effects were noted in the model for service member's rank, as well as spouse's ethnicity and parental status. Implications for policy and practice are addressed.

Key Words: adaptation, caping, culture, military, organizational work.

(Family Relations, 2004, 53, 249-260)

A consensus has long existed among those studying the work-family interface that these two domains are not independent (Kanter, 1977; Pleck, 1977), and that they must be looked at as interdependent (Eckenrode & Gore, 1990a; Haas, 1999; Perry-Jenkins, Repetti, & Crouter, 2000). Recent research has applied the work-family fit perspective (Bowen & Pittman, 1993; Pittman, 1994; Teng & Pittman, 1996) to this interdependence in order to explain optimal linkages between the two domains. Such efforts reveal important differences between work and family, as well as substantive implications for the selection of strategies to optimize the interaction between these domains. The notion that work and family are interdependent domains (Barnett, 1998) is demonstrated clearly in Army families.

The current study focused on Army families to illustrate the usefulness of the work-family fit perspective when considering strategies for optimizing work-family linkages. These strategies likely have broader implications for military families in general and the surrounding communities in which they reside (Bowen, Martin, Mancini, & Nelson, 2000). With the recent war in Iraq, many military families have experienced the stress associated with the deployment of their members. The subsequent reunion of family members following the end of this war also has challenged the adaptation of these families. Lessons learned from the reunion of families following Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm in the previous decade offer opportunities for understanding how work-family fit can be maximized for Army families engaged in negotiating the military lifestyle.

Work-Family Fit

The work-family fit perspective addresses the correspondence between individual capacities and environmental demands on one hand, and the individual's needs/motives and environmental rewards on the other (Bowen & Pittman, 1993; Pittman, 1994; Pittman & Orthner, 1988a, 1988b; Teng & Pittman, 1996). Barnett (1998) commented that "fit" is an adaptive process. As a construct, fit can have utility to researchers and policy makers when conceptualized as a mediator between the workplace and the family, or, as used in this study, when conceptualized as a desirable outcome in the balance between work and family.

The notion of fit offers a powerful and dynamic specification of policy and practice because it incorporates the unique constellation of abilities and goals of individual workers and their families relevant to both domains. The integrative reach of the fit concept also extends to the ecological thinking of Bronfenbrenner (1979, 1986) where the contexts of work and home are considered microsystems whose interface and mutual influence are conceptualized as "mesosystem" phenomena. Bowen and Pittman (1993) argued for a work-family fit model that recognizes two basic varieties of mesosystem phenomena-internal and external adaptation-when considering family outcomes of work-based rewards and strains. Internal adaptation is conceptualized as the impact of work-based factors on the quality of family life, reflected in the interpersonal environment within the family as it has been affected by the quality of the fit between work and family. …

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Internal and External Adaptation in Army Families: Lessons from Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm
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